Through our years of experience working to combat loneliness at Together Co, we’ve come to understand that loneliness is often much more than meets the eye. The experience of loneliness is rooted in loss, and living with the burden of that loss.
This might be more complex than the way we usually talk about “loss”, and extend to a loss of identity, loss of status, loss of income, the loss of someone close to them, loss of relationships, loss of good physical or mental health or loss of mobility.
In turn, individuals experiencing loss can also be “at a loss” for where to turn or what to do. Isolation and loneliness caused by such loss can impact confidence, making it more difficult for an individual to get things back on track.
To address this need, we launched our Buddy Scheme – offering people a trained volunteer who will link up with them and support them to achieve a goal. Unlike limitless befriending, or our social prescribing service, the buddy scheme is short term and goal focused, with an eventual aim of giving our clients more confidence to engage with their interests – perhaps to go to choir practice, an exercise class, their allotment, or for a walk around the park for the first time since the pandemic began.
Our buddying model is simple – as our Social Prescribing Link Workers build rapport and develop a relationship of trust, we can suggest that someone a bit like us will be a buddy. Someone for the person to connect with, and in turn connect with the outside world and their community.
Our Buddy Scheme is focused on the following themes, which shape the buddying process:
The gift of time
It’s easier to build rapport and trust with time. Our Social Prescribing Link Workers can spend up to an hour with someone on several occasions, and buddies can be arranged for up to six sessions. This is a big investment, but we find this pays dividends.
Finding common ground
We find that being able to honestly reflect on how difficult the impact of Covid-19 has been can be helpful, but it’s important to put some boundaries around this conversation so we help people to focus on their goal.
A small action can have a big impact
The first step is always the hardest – it can be so difficult going to a new group or activity for the first time. By supporting people to reconnect with their community, we know that feelings of empowerment will also improve.
Sometimes buddying will take longer to work, but it can and does work, so it’s crucial for the buddy to be patient, flexible and persistent. This might mean meeting on the doorstep for the first visit and going to the café next time.
We weave a coaching approach into our work by asking questions like “Where would you like to be in a few weeks’ time?” “What went well in the past?” and “You’re coping now, how are you coping?” It’s important to set specific, achievable goals with the person so they can work towards them.
We made sure to focus on recruiting a diverse range of volunteers with a variety of experiences and backgrounds. This means we can create connections to change lives in a way that works for the individual.
Never underestimate the power of volunteering
Our trained volunteers bring with them a huge range of life experience, from past careers in teaching and management to counsellors and fundraisers. The benefits surrounding a client knowing this person wants to spend time with them and is not being paid for it has huge value, especially for those who worry about taking up too much time.
Goal: To leave the house
Pat is a retired nurse in her 70s who had a fall just before lockdown, and had been using walking sticks to get out and about. She had recently been given a new ‘walker’, but hadn’t used it as she felt too nervous to go out on her own. She had spent months not going out and her legs were now weaker due to lack of exercise.
After going out a few times with our buddy Jane, Pat said she felt much more confident than she had expected and that it was just knowing someone was alongside her. Jane and Pat met once a week and each time Pat went further. After three weeks, Pat set a new goal of getting to her local shop so she could pick up some groceries. By Week 6, Pat had achieved this.
Goal: To feel more connected to her community.
Fran is 42 and works in the NHS; she moved to Brighton just before lockdown in March 2020. Due to the timing of the pandemic, Fran never had the chance to connect to her new community and as a result became low, anxious, and withdrawn and was eventually signed off work.
Work was Fran’s only connection to people, and without it she was left feeling isolated and stuck. Fran agreed to taking part in the buddy scheme if she could meet up with someone informally to speak conversational French. Fortunately, one of our buddies is a French speaker, and Fran and Jo have since met up walking around Fran’s neighbourhood speaking in French. Fran is now back at work and says she is coping much better, and will engage more with her community once her confidence levels have risen.
Goal: To leave the house/meet someone face to face/overcome social anxiety
A retired bank manager with severe COPD, Ali received letters telling him not to go out from March 2020. He said the pandemic and lockdown seemed to trigger something in him that took him back to the period after his wife died many years ago – a place where Ali felt lost and hopeless.
Though he remained isolated from his friends and was withdrawing from his daughter, he agreed to give our buddy scheme a try, and after months of communicating by text met our buddy Jane face-to-face. It was the first time he had walked from his home to meet anyone, and Jane and Ali are planning to meet again for coffee somewhere soon.
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© 2019 Together Collective a Company Limited by Guarantee registered in England and Wales: Company No. 03895574, whose registered office is Projects The Lanes, Nile House, Nile St, Brighton BN1 1HW. Together Collective is a registered charity: Charity No. 1083390